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David Letterman’s audition for the movie “Airplane!” is a legendary story of a hilariously terrible screen test. An excerpt from the oral history book “Surely You Can’t Be Serious: The True History of Airplane!” published in Entertainment Weekly shares the inside scoop on this memorable moment.
Letterman was invited to audition for the main role of Ted Striker in the iconic comedy film “Airplane!” Ultimately, Robert Hays was cast in the role, but the audition process left an indelible mark on everyone involved.
Co-director Jeff Zucker remembers that Letterman, despite not being an actor, possessed a fantastic on-screen presence with leading-man looks. However, Letterman was clearly uncomfortable with the idea of acting, finding it artificial and insincere.
Letterman acknowledges that the “Airplane!” team was kind to consider him for a film role but emphasizes that he had no acting experience. He humorously recalls warning them about his lack of acting skills, repeatedly stating, “I can’t act, I can’t act, I can’t act.”
During the audition, they set up a cockpit scene with chairs. Letterman took on the lead role, and after a few attempts, the feedback was brutally honest. One of the team members approached Letterman and candidly delivered the verdict: “You’re right: you can’t act!”
Letterman took it all in good humor, finding the entire experience lighthearted and amusing. He chuckled his way back to his car, feeling no disappointment since he had been forthright from the start about his limited acting abilities. The audition concluded on friendly terms, and everyone parted as friends.
Years later, Jeff Zucker made a surprise appearance on Letterman’s talk show and played a clip from his calamitous audition. Whether Letterman was genuinely taken aback or well-prepared for the clip, he embraced the moment with grace, displaying great sportsmanship and eliciting hearty laughs from the audience.
“Surely You Can’t Be Serious: The True History of Airplane!” is currently available for pre-order and is scheduled for release on October 3 by St. Martin’s Press.